The plan was simple. Photographer Jason was to collect me and fellow petrolhomie Al in his new Megane RS 250 and then drive to Dieppe in France, the home of Renaultsport HQ. Simple enough and a good day out… you would think.
On most occasions a 05:15 alarm would equate to a hatefully inauspicious start, but I felt surprisingly awake with an undertone of excitement about the day’s events. As we’d taken the Eurotunnel some 6 or 7 times this year we felt a change of route was needed, so we’d booked ourselves onto a trusty P&O ferry for the 07:30 crossing.
Although a slight swell in the Channel made perusing the wine section a little uncomfortable, we arrived in Calais without incident, replete with the heaviest muffins known to Southern England lying in the pit of our stomachs.
Northern France isn’t the most picturesque place on the sunniest of Sundays and the hefty blanket of cumulonimbi accentuated the industrial, flat bleakness more pertinently than we’d seen before.
Even the continental dull, however, could not detract from the head-turning presence of Renault’s hottest hatch. Admittedly, it was finding favour with 14-year-old schoolboys as it sauntered through Montreuil looking for a café au lait and pain au choc stop, but still it was noticed all the same.
The colour scheme on Jason’s car works well, particularly when combined with the kerb-scraping 19” alloys and low-profile Conti Sports. Surprisingly, it rides well too. In fact, from the moment you get in you understand the Megane has grown up – a far cry from its raucous older brethren, the R26. The body-hugging leather seats and well integrated dashboard satnav hint a welcome combination of Focus ST and Golf, more than ideal for our speedy blat through France.
On route to Dieppe we took a detour to a little-known race track called the Circuit de Croix on the outskirts of St Pol. When I say little-known I think this applies to its employees as well; it was deserted…
We were incredibly tempted to drive up the open pit lane and blast out onto the circuit for an out-lap, flying lap and in-lap, purely to use the Renaultsport iphone app that records lap time, 0-60 and g-force… but in the end we bottled it. Probably a good thing too – Al was demonstrating the grip of the Megane as he positioned it for a photo op, but the Continentals screaming in protestation raised the alarm to the one member of staff on site, who burst out of an inconspicuous doorway and promptly cautioned us. For someone connected to motorsport, she was preposterously attractive; Brands Hatch seemed a world away…
The Megane continued to impress as we sought out a tasty ribbon of road called the D126. For a brief 5 minutes or so it was empty providing Jason with a playground on which he could extend all 250 horses for the first time since arriving in the Megane’s homeland. Again the ride surpassed expectation, but it was the poise and tractability that really surprised. The way it can chew up a corner at inordinate speed left me in mind of the tenacious 182 Cup; both will hang on for dear life.
Aside from this moment of vacancy, we were experiencing unusual congestion the closer we drove to Dieppe. Great for improving the Megane’s 26+mpg economy, but hardly in the spirit of Gallic motoring. The worsening weather didn’t do much to lift the spirits of its tiring occupants, either.
We had no specific address for Rsport HQ as we assumed it would be a dirty great complex in Dieppe’s industrial zone. So after failing to find it during 30 minutes of searching we called upon the ipad and iphone gps (Megane’s didn’t have the European download) and our own limited map reading abilities. A quick Googling of ‘Renault Dieppe’ was still inconclusive, but we had addresses to go on so tried every plausible one we could find. No success.
Post a dreadful late-afternoon lunch of steak (we think) topped with Roquefort (redolent beyond description) we had one final punt at locating (what was quickly becoming) L’usine de Mystère. A small Alpine warehouse offered hope, but was no good. It was raining, we’d zig-zagged 400 miles, got frustrated in traffic and were heading home as geographical ignoramuses. The mere fact we’d missed our ferry and the replacement was 40 minutes late departing was lemon juice on the genitals.
Fifteen hours in a car with 2 other guys would be a tough assessment for any executive saloon. That the Megane housed us in comfort, style and charm is a testament to how it has evolved into a consummate all-rounder. It’s just a shame we couldn’t achieve the most simpleton of tasks and take her back home.